Elephants and Donkeys form the frontline in PR tactical offensive – what is next?

One of my favourite campaigns of recent years was the Elephant Parade in London in 2010.  It sought to raise the profile of the plight of the Asian elephant, and the destruction of their environment.

London's Elephant Parade in 2010 (Telegraph)

London’s Elephant Parade in 2010 (Telegraph)

It was innovative, not just in the way it harnessed art as tactic in the PR practitioner’s reportoire, but it was thoughtful in how it correctly recognised that if it had any chance of success, it must increase the audience’s level of involvement with the campaign, rather than just ‘turning up the volume’.

It did this in two particular ways.  The first was by exploiting the interest of children, laying on painting workshops for them and their parents.  By getting their hands dirty with paint, and creating their own ‘collateral’, this guaranteed that when the issue was next raised, these ‘fans’ would be more likely to be supporters (and have a greater level of understanding of the issues).

The second was to engage artists and celebrities to design their own elephants, which, after appearing in random locations around the capital, would be auctioned off at a VIP auction to raise funds for the cause.  In this way, an army of active opinion-formers were recruited to the cause, loyal because of their level of engagement too, in which they could take some level of pride.

Elephant Parade (2010) outside City Hall

Elephant Parade (2010) outside City Hall

Without such an approach, ‘involvement’ would have been less, and levels of support for a far-off cause less enduring.

The campaign was also endearing in how it sought to capture the attention of the public, and the media at large.  Rather than going for the more traditional ‘stunt’, or a lavish press conference featuring a ‘star’ from ‘Made in Chelsea’ or equivalent, organisers let the public find the painted elephants for themselves.

More of the elephants in the Parade (2010)

More of the elephants in the Parade (2010)

One morning, listeners to phone-in shows started to call in, reporting their appearance, as if by magic.  Through ‘word-of-mouth’ speculation was under starter’s orders.  By the following day, the media was full of photos and reports, and hordes of families and tourists in particular were ticking off lists of elephants that they wanted to find for themselves on the trail.

If I’m honest with myself, although strategy has to come first in public relations, I will always be a tactics girl.  I get a personal thrill and apply academic conceptual relish in discovering new, and ever more effective PR tactics.  I do not mean inauthentic, ‘shouty’ stunts of old, but anything that really works – whatever that can be shown to mean.  Usually, when it comes to that search, there is nothing more soul destroying that upturning a pale-imitation that betrays a lack of imagination.

Painted Donkeys at St Paul's

Painted Donkeys at St Paul’s

At first sight, that is what I thought I had discovered last week when I heard the story of the painted donkeys – “what have they done to my elephants?”, I thought.  But on closer examination, I realised that this was another example of a similar use of the techniques deployed, arguably with greater authenticity and depth, if not exposure.

The CARAVAN Exhibition seeks to communicate the message of tolerance between Christianity and Islam, and similarly commissioned a range of artists to paint an animal.  It is sponsored by the Embassy of Switzerland and supported by the British Council, and arrived at St Paul’s after transferring from the streets of Cairo!  A fabulous campaign.  The organisers may not describe it as PR, but it is, and I salute them.

The search continues for the next innovation in PR tactics.  Anything might have its uses.  We’ve seen media, photography, events, sponsorship – I could go on for some time.  More recently, we’ve had a wide range of arts, even baking.

Citizen Science - camera in hand

Citizen Science – camera in hand

My top tip came as a eureka moment listening to a BBC radio documentary in the last week on Citizen Science.

Citizen Science - another meaningful method to garner involvement

Citizen Science – another meaningful method to garner involvement

The feature was highlighting the story of a project engaging locals on Montserrat to fly kites with cameras tied on to them over the crater of a volcano to make important readings.  A great example of story-telling, and captivating for media relations, but it was also a gateway to other recent examples, such as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, and a project looking to save trees from disease in Norfolk.

While such projects might not yet have the glamour of art, they have that vital ingredient of offering a genuine way for someone to get involved, and feel they can make a real difference.  If a PR campaign could offer that, it is well on the way to success.  With social media offering more ways of the public to report data finds, and their smart-phones offering a ready made data recorder of so many varieties, my money is on a lab coat, rather than another painted animal as the next big thing in PR.


Make way, make way… Clearing 2013

With A-Level results due out tomorrow (Thursday 15th August), the Clearing operation for this year gets into full swing.  There are opportunities out there for those students who haven’t done as well as they expected, as well as for those who have done better than they had hoped, or might have changed their mind about the course or subject they wish to pursue.

The people over at the University of Greenwich have put together a useful animated guide to the clearing process.  I hope it is of help to anyone who might be feeling daunted by it, rather than seeing it as a new door of opportunity opening up.

I teach on the BA (Hons) Public Relations and Communications degree at Greenwich, and while the degree has seen a surge in interest, with a record number set to start in September, we are still keeping our doors open for potential recruits during Clearing.

Students who have taken Greenwich PR courses have gone on to great success in the public relations world.  Recent graduates Leila Mountford and Arianna Anzaoloni are currently with Weber Shandwick.  Graduate of 2011 Thom Will is working in the world of entertainment/drama PR across a string of TV productions on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky at Ian Johnson Publicity.  And Ingrid Asoni has just set up her own PR/Events/Lifestyle consultancy in Marrakech!



More details about these and other members of the Greenwich PR student community, and alumni can be found at their Pinterest site, The PR Fraternity.

The degree welcomes a clutch of new lecturers to its courses alongside established lecturers Mark Phillimore, Dr. Nicky Garsten and myself.  These include Dr. Ed de Quincey, Kathy Watson, and visiting lecturer Ezri Carlebach, alongside established visiting lecturers who include Rebecca Stiasny and Ann Longley.  We are all very excited about the number of guest contributors we have got coming in to do sessions during the course of the year.  I have already got sessions confirmed from the Deputy Programme Director of Kiss FM, Simon Long; and from Andy Parfitt, the Executive Director, Talent at Saatchi & Saatchi, Chair of UK Charity, Youth Music, and former Controller of BBC Radio 1, BBC 1Xtra and BBC Asian Network (amongst other BBC responsibilities).

If you think you might be in Clearing and want to know more about the degree, don’t hesitate to contact the Clearing team at the University who will be happy to help you out – and if you still want more, here’s another video that will give you a little bit more of a flavour.

Whatever your results, good luck in navigating your future career options.

‘PR Fraternity’ pins student success on story-telling

I’m really proud of the PR alumni and students I have had the honour to teach at the University of Greenwich.  As I start to prepare for a new academic year for 2013/14, I’ve started reflecting on some the great positions some of them have gone on to in the world of PR – and the exciting opportunities the current cohort are taking on through internships and work experience.


We have graduates who have gone on to careers at major agencies (such as Weber Shandwick and Bell Pottinger), specialist agencies (such as FTI Consulting, Kaizo and Ian Johnson Publicity), and in-house, while others have set up on their own.  The ‘Pinterest’ site aims to capture a snapshot of some of their stories of success.


The ‘PR Fraternity‘ is the student-led community of alumni and students which provides networking opportunities, and guest speaker events against the back-drop of one of the finest venues in London – the Old Royal Naval College.  Working with the students, we have just launched a ‘Pinterest site’ to celebrate achievements, promote experience, and encourage networking – not to mention support recruitment.

http://pinterest.com/prfraternity/  Do take a look at the rest of the images – we will be adding to them on a rolling basis.

The location of the BA (Hons) Public Relations and Communications and MA Public Relations at the University of Greenwich, with Canary Wharf and the West End on its door-step is perfect for being able set up this level of experience, which can help lead to ultimate career success.


Above: Michelle Amos (Top); Claire Daley (Middle); Thom Will (Nearest above).

Bad smell

The recent campaign by Andrex has left me a little bemused.

I don’t think I can be accused of being a prude.  And as the theme of this blog will testify, it has not been unknown for me to have an unnatural interest in toilet health.


This campaign appears to think it is extremely clever.  It toys with one of those last areas of taboo in modern life that has otherwise been turned over to exhibitionism.  By attempting to generate a debate on how, not to put too fine a point on it, we ‘wipe our backsides’ it goes somewhere that we just do not want to go in public.

Andrex wants to know how you wipe your bum

Andrex wants to know how you wipe your bum

Conventional marketing communications theory would say, “brilliant!”  The implication is that the shock value of seeing people talking about how they wipe their bum will grab our attention, watch the advert, and buy the toilet roll.  And by engaging us in social media, by asking us to choose whether we ‘fold‘ or ‘scrunch‘, it deepens our relationship with the brand.

For some time, I’ve reflected on whether advertisers may be forced to abandon the traditional ‘message effect’ of the persuasion tools of humour, guilt and fear, in favour of the more physiologically grounded effect of disgust, whether moral or physical.  In an increasingly noisy environment, such effects are less easy to avoid than the traditional ones more grounded in psychology.  I’ve had Kelly, D (2011) by my bedside, but never seem to get the guts to read it.  Maybe the Andrex campaign is the excuse I need.

Apologies for the imagery (Andrex planted it there), but am I the only one for whom this argument leaves ‘skidmarks’?  If they needed to grab your attention, I could understand, but they don’t.  As a loyal Andrex customer, I’m left bemused, and feeling as if I should switch to another brand.

If the campaign had been run with a PR element to it, I would have been much more sympathetic to it.  Do we really believe Andrex ‘give a shit’ whether we ‘fold‘ or ‘scrunch‘?  If they did, and it was a genuine conversation, perhaps it would work.

A genuine cause, rather than just getting the tills ringing

A genuine cause, rather than just getting the tills ringing

Maybe if the effort had been linked to something more substantial, such as an awareness raising campaign in conjunction with Beating Bowel Cancer, or another charitable campaign on sanitation, I would have been a lot more sympathetic to it.  There could have been much more active media relations and social media activity on the basis of this charitable ‘CSR’, and what is often called the ‘managed controversy’ discussed earlier that would help secure column inches, as well as people talking, for the right reasons.  There are links to charities on the Andrex website, but nothing above and beyond their usual work, and nothing tied in with this campaign.

Instead, I’m left feeling like this is a cheap stunt on Andrex’s part, and as such, it leaves me with a bad smell.  Here endeth the toilet humour.

Kelly, Daniel (2011) “Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust”, Massachusetts: MIT Press

Top notch

With a subject area like Public Relations, it is vital to be able to bring to bear scenarios from professional practice, and top-notch speakers who can grab students’ interests.  This can be with a view to providing the arena for deep reflection on the relevance of theoretical concepts discussed on the course – and for students to be able to develop their own new solutions to creative problems and responses to emerging trends.

This term is already set to be an exciting one for the PR and Communications degree at the University of Greenwich welcoming guest speakers who turn heads and inspire such reflection.

Colleen Harris (here commentating on the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on ABC News)

Topical, with the discussions around invasion of privacy associated with KateDuchess of Cambridge, and separately, Prince Harry (ahem!), Colleen Harris will talk to PR students at the University of Greenwich on Friday 16th November.  Colleen is a former Press Secretary to HRH Prince of Wales, and the Princes William and Harry.  She has served on the Press Complaints Commission, as a senior press officer across Whitehall (including at Number 10), and was Director of Strategy and Communications at the Commission for Racial Equality.

Weber Shandwick CEO EMEA, Colin Byrne

On Tuesday 16th October, Colin Byrne, CEO, EMEA of world-leading public relations agency Weber Shandwick will be dropping by the world heritage site that is home to the University of Greenwich to share his latest insights on trends in the industry.

In “Top trends for PR in the engagement era” he will discuss how, in considering influences on their brand’s sociability, most public relations executives look to external forces – winning the approval of the right media, achieving a target number of “Likes” on Facebook and dominating coverage of certain topics. Internal strategy, planning, cohesiveness and comfort in the digital space must come first; internal focus and consistency of vision are areas where substantial improvement must be made by most brands.

Ken Deeks

On Friday 23rd November we have the pleasure of welcoming Ken Deeks, who has insight gathered from straddling the PR/journalist divide in his career.  He started off as a journalist working mainly for local newspapers as well as a spell on the Daily Mirror, before moving into PR. For several years, Ken ran a series of PR companies, operating mainly in the tech sector, including Kaizo. He then set up his own communications company KDL, which he ran for five years, before joining up with Paul Smith and Richard Baines to create The Amber Group. Ken is also the founder of Byte Night, the tech industry’s largest charity event.

Bell Pottinger Business and Brand’s MD, Kevin Read

Kicking off the term is Kevin Read, MD of Bell Pottinger Business and Brand, who will be speaking at our opening day Induction Event on Thursday 20th September.

Kevin’s main focus at Bell Pottinger Business and Brand is on resolving complex, international communications problems, shaping fresh, modern strategies and implementing integrated solutions that are typically spearheaded by PR.

He has more than 15 years senior consultancy experience and specialises in strategic planning and providing senior level business counsel. He has worked extensively for leading global brands (HSBC, British Gas, Unilever), a wide array of industry bodies (Nuclear, Food, Telecomms, Cosmetics, Drinks), government departments, NGOs and professional services firms.  At the induction event for University of Greenwich PR students, he will be addressing the theme of creativity.

Not bad – and term hasn’t even begun.  I couldn’t help blogging about it.

Team PR: You’ll have a meantime at the University of Greenwich

It’s that time of year when A-Level results become clear, and Clearing becomes an option for those whose results were not what they expected.

I teach on the BA (Hons) Public Relations and Communications at the University of Greenwich – and if that is the subject area you are considering for study, particularly in London, let me make sure you have all there is to know about our degree.

We’re based in one of the most beautiful parts of London – you may have seen us on the TV for the last few weeks as one of the Olympic 2012 venues, and soon to be the same for the Paralympics.  It is truly amazing.

The Old Royal Naval College – home to the University of Greenwich – provides the backdrop to Olympic and Paralympic activities in 2012.

One of the most important stresses of our course is employability.  You will find graduates of our relatively new degree working, amongst other destinations as a Publicist on BBC and E4 programmes at entertainment agency Ian Johnson Publicity, and an Account Executive at Kaizo.  From an Account Executive at Bell Pottinger, to one at The Good Agency.

Students take work experience placements while on the degree, with what they have learnt from those times being assessed as part of a course on professionalism.  Recent student PR placements have included Accessorize, Burton, Clifford French, Macmillan Cancer Support, Sotheby’s and Twestival.

On the video you will see two of the other key lecturing staff on the degree amongst the many others – programme leader, Nicky Garsten , and Mark Phillimore, who runs the MA too.

As well as them, there are other experienced lecturers like Mandy Atkinson who make up the team, a number of specialist visiting lecturers, as well as a host of guest lectures during the year.  During the coming term, Colin Byrne, CEO EMEA of Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s biggest PR agencies is joining us to give a guest lecture.

Geographically, the Business School of which we are a part sits right across the Thames from Canary Wharf and London’s prime business district.

And then I suppose there’s me.  I’d like to think that not too many PR degree courses offer a lecturer who teaches the same way as me.  In a former life, I was head of PR at BBC Radio 1, and I will use many of the case studies of sex, drugs and rock and roll from my little black book to illustrate lectures, whether on crisis management, or media relations.  As well as the corporate profile of the station, I managed the profile of anyone from Chris Moyles and Tim Westwood to Sara Cox, Trevor Nelson and Scott Mills.

Radio 1’s record-breaking breakfast host Chris Moyles hugs successor Nick Grimshaw

I’ve also worked in political PR and in government, supporting MPs and government ministers.  And as a freelancer consultant, my clients have included London radio station Kiss 100, music technology app Shazam, broadcaster Nicky Campbell, and radio industry trade body, the Radio Academy – you try managing a photo-call with George Michael.

I put a big priority on getting to know my students – this is public relations – and using my experiences and contacts to their best advantage.

I think our course content and approach, the lecturers on the course, and our unique location in London makes the University of Greenwich the best if you are considering studying Public Relations and Communications in London for 2012/13.  Plus the degree is accredited by the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations), and is a partner university of the PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association).

If you are involved in Clearing – you know what you’ve got to do!  And I hope there might be a chance I’m teaching you next term.  Good luck, whatever you decide to do.

For her contribution to causing a crisis…..

It is difficult to know what to post on the subject of the News Corporation ‘crisis’ without it sounding like cliche heaped upon cliche.  But for someone who professes to teach public relations, and who has been known to provide counsel, I feel it would be remiss of me not to put some words together.  My thoughts come in three broad themes.


In many instances, a crisis is not born of events themselves, but of an organisation’s reaction to those events.  Indeed, it can be its “failure to meet the social norms and expectations of stakeholders” (Coombs, 2000, p.77).

Rupert Murdoch - not sure which 'social norm' has the bigger breach: the spread-eagled legs for the camera; or the almost knee-high socks with shorts combo; or perhaps it goes much deeper than that. Photo - Telegraph

Rupert, Rebekah and James have felt that it’s ‘okay’ not to have to answer for what has taken place on their watch, especially when it’s involved the families of murdered children, fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.  To not feel the need to account for yourselves is almost as big a sin as the original crimes – thus compounding the crisis.

Almost childlike, they have felt that somehow, if they hide, it will go away.  If they don’t engage in the basics of relationship management – whether through media relations, public affairs, internal communications or investor relations – it will blow over.  Instead, they have just created bigger audiences for their original crisis, and added to their gripes.

A crisis demands “outside-in thinking”.  Instead, we have just seen a bunker mentality.

Sacrificing the News of the World appears to be a reflex reaction, dressed up as thought through strategy.  “If we throw the baying crowds a piece of meat, perhaps that will satisfy them, draw a line, and they will go away”.  Except it still didn’t answer any of the questions people had about past wrong-doing, and instead destroyed a piece of the News Corp empire that arguably was working well.  The News of the World need not have been closed down.


The three senior executives at the heart of the scandal have demonstrated a woeful understanding of the basics when  it comes to their own use of the media, which has usually involved them shunning interview opportunities (adding to the air that they have something to hide), or running away from a pack of journalists and cameras (in the process, creating the most defensive of photo-opportunities).

Rebekah Brooks and another defensive non-photo opportunity

This is from professionals (some of whom have been journalists themselves, so should know better) who lead some of the biggest media titles, many of whom are the catalyst for a crisis in organisation when they put allegations to them to ‘stand up a story’.  You would think they would be the experts at knowing how to handle a crisis, having seen it from the inside?  Think again.

Why no press conferences?  Why after hiding from the press for so long do you give an interview to only one publication?  Why do you have to resort to to advertising and letters to say your sorry?  When did you stop being a human being?


Building from the last point, it is a cautionary tale about organisations assuming that high-profile former journalists always make the best PRs.  Some journalists make fantastic PRs – the ones that understand that the discipline is more than just media relations,and is about more than individual transactions.  At its heart, PR is about reputation.

Whether it is media professionals’ shocking handling of the media themselves, or the arrest of journalists turned PRs for their alleged involvement in this ‘scandal’, public relations needs to maintain a constant eye over standards in its own profession.  The discipline’s reputation itself is never that high – and the last thing it needs is to be brought into the eye of this storm by the actions of the likes of Andy Coulson and Neil Wallis.


While writing this blog, it has been announced that Rebekah Brooks has finally resigned as Chief Executive of News International.  It may be a little late for the organisation to take control of the crisis, even though we have finally seen someone held accountable.

What price reputation? UAL's Rector, Nigel Carrington with Rebekah Brooks

Which brings me to the rather limp reaction of University of the Arts, London to calls for them to strip Rebekah Brooks of the honorary degree they awarded her last year for her ‘contribution to journalism’.  It was on behalf of constituent college, London College of Communication (LCC), from which Brooks originally graduated.

Rather than acknowledging the concern of academics, students and external audiences to how this award looks with hindsight, a university spokeswoman told the Guardian that they awarded honorary degrees to those judged to have made “considerable contributions to the creative and cultural industries“, while head of college at LCC, Sandra Kemp emailed all staff, warning it was inappropriate to comment while official investigations were ongoing (err… they will be for some time), and warning that all media inquiries should go to the university press office (err.. this to a college that includes countless journalism and PR students).

Excuse me, what about the bigger issues?  Am I missing something here – isn’t the university worried about it’s association with what will become the biggest scandal of our generation.  Perhaps the degree would be more aptly re-awarded for her contribution to causing a crisis?

With this year’s graduation ceremonies upon us, for the sake of avoiding its own crisis and denting its own reputation, London College of Communication/University of the Arts, London should withdraw her honorary degree.  You can join the Facebook group here.


Coombs, T. (2000) Crisis management: Advantage of a relational perspective. In J.A Ledingham & S.D. Bruning (eds) Public Relations as relationship management: A relational approach to public relations (pp.73-93), Mahwah, New Jersey:  Erlbaum.